Carnival celebrations in Aachen Bacillus carnivalis

“Jeck” (pronounced “yeck”) is a wonderful adjective beyond translation. If someone in Aachen is “jeck”, it doesn’t imply they’ve taken leave of their senses or aren’t quite all there – or that they are, in the vernacular, out of their minds.

Antidote to Serious

  • Award for humour and a down-to-earth approach by holders of public office
  • awarded annually by the Aachen Carnival Society
  • the first “Knight of the Order”, in 1950, was local public prosecutor James Arthur Dugdale
  • Dugdale hat released a prisoner from jail at carnival time because he said it was the Rhineland’s highest feast-day
  • Broadcast on TV since 1954

Quite the opposite: by being “jeck” a person in Aachen is engaging in an act of the utmost rationality – taking time out, quite intentionally, from normality. This process of disengagement rooted deep in human psychology is called, quite simply, Carnival.

It’s important to note that this process is highly infectious, albeit seasonal. For around the first six weeks of each year, “bacillus carnivalis” roams the streets of Aachen infecting nearly everyone. An ill for which there’s no pill. Poultices are pointless, and even Aspirin cannot aspire. Perfect strangers suddenly embrace in song, move through the city in elaborate costumes and – for reasons unbeknown to those outside Aachen – laugh.

Also strangers can learn carnival skills

But fear not: carnival skills can be learnt. After all, it’s not just a typically Rhineland, but a typically German phenomenon – with over 50 carnival associations in Aachen organizing around 250 entertainment evenings, balls and other festivities where even those from afar soon feel perfectly at home.

If they manage to pick up one of the rare (and anything but cheap) tickets to the Aachen Carnival Association’s “Wider den Tierischen Ernst” (Antidote to Serious) evening, they’ll be in on the city’s Number 1 society event – along with up to millions TV viewers. The “Wider den Tierischen Ernst Medal” (Antidote to Serious Medal) is Germany’s most prestigious carnival prize and the only one to feature on the list of European cultural awards.

At its heart, though, carnival is something “by the people for the people” – even if a prince addressed as “Your Jollity” is the high representative of the intentionally “jeck”. He probably originally emerged as a protest against the ruling classes, something brought to mind even today by the colourful uniforms and the comical, pseudo-military drill of soldiers like the “Öcher Penn” city brigade.

In Aachen (or “Ocheh” in the local vernacular), one word must be learnt right away: “Alaaf!” – an expression which can be used in, well, pretty much any connection. Its true meaning is the subject of debate, but most experts lean toward the theory that it comes from the French “à la vie”.

And so: Here’s to life! Oche Alaaf!

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The "fifth season" - a.k.a Carnival

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External links

Der Orden "Wider den Tierischen Ernst" (The Antidote to Serious Medal)Information, event dates and all sorts of stories concerning Aachen’s Carnival Association (German only) Oecher PennThe Aachen City Brigade (German only) Central Carnival Archives and Aachen Carnival Committee MuseumAll you need to know about Carnival (German only)